What Does a Heavy Machinery Operator Do and What Are the Skills and Requirements?


what does a heavy machinery operator do and what are the skills and requirements?

Heavy equipment operators are a valuable addition to the workforce. They help build structures — such as roads, buildings, sewer systems and bridges — by operating large machinery like excavators, forklifts, backhoes and cranes.

The demand for heavy machine operators increases with the need for infrastructure maintenance and repair. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects construction equipment operator employment to grow 5% through 2031.

This job involves various responsibilities, including following technical instructions, upholding safety precautions and working well with other team members. If you’re thinking of pursuing heavy equipment operation or want to learn more about the field, read on to explore general duties, skills and requirements.


Heavy Equipment Operator Duties

Construction equipment operators handle many critical tasks daily. Here are some responsibilities you can expect on the job site.

1. Inspection

To ensure safe and proper operation, a heavy equipment operator must know how to inspect the machine before use. Besides examining each part to ensure it functions correctly, the inspection stage might also involve lubricating, refilling and cleaning machines before and after tasks.

2. Operation

As the job title suggests, heavy machine operation is a standard responsibility. Drivers should know how to operate machines using levers, foot pedals, dials and other components. They must have a comprehensive understanding of the machine’s capabilities. Operators use numerous types of equipment, such as:

  • Aerial lifts and cranes
  • Backhoe loaders
  • Shovels
  • Excavators
  • Forklifts
  • Tractors

Equipment operation includes adjusting controls and dials as needed, reading gauges and maneuvering complex spaces and terrain. An in-cab display can give operators real-time feedback to help them optimize payload capacity and load count.

3. Repair and Maintenance

A heavy machine operator should know how to service different types of heavy equipment, including:

  • Preventive maintenance: Preventive maintenance includes routine services to prevent problems and keep equipment functional. Some examples include cleanings, oil changes, greasing, track inspections and pressure checks.
  • Reactive maintenance: Reactive maintenance is the process of remedying an issue that has already occurred. It may involve replacing a single part or an entire machine.

In many heavy machines, the cabs display error codes and alert technicians when maintenance is needed, making it easier to service equipment. Operators can also receive mobile reminders to perform regular preventive maintenance tasks.

4. Upholding Safety Protocols

Operating heavy equipment comes with many risks, such as:

  • Falling materials and loads
  • Electrocution from the equipment contacting an overhead powerline
  • Equipment overturns
  • Equipment operator blind spots

Struck-by objects are a leading cause of construction-related fatalities. About 75% of these incidents involve heavy equipment like cranes and trucks.

Since operators are frequently exposed to these hazards and others, following stringent safety guidelines is an essential part of the job. Heavy machine operators should understand and practice these measures:

  • Familiarizing themselves with the machine’s controls and manual
  • Inspecting equipment at the beginning and end of each shift
  • Adjusting back and side mirrors to compensate for blind spots
  • Wearing a seat belt
  • Ensuring workers are away from the equipment before operating
  • Communicating with other crew members using handheld radios
  • Wearing high-visibility vests and helmets
  • Following road markers
  • Avoiding overloading the equipment
  • Avoiding operating equipment parallel to embankments and slopes


Heavy Equipment Operator Requirements

Whether you're operating a forklift, backhoe, excavator or crane, a basic set of skills is necessary to complete tasks safely and efficiently.

Whether you’re operating a forklift, backhoe, excavator or crane, a basic set of skills is necessary to complete tasks safely and efficiently. A heavy machine operator can develop and hone the following skills through formal education and training.

1. Attention to Detail

Heavy equipment operators monitor machines for safe, functional performance. They must examine the equipment and its surroundings to identify potential hazards. They need to ensure a machine’s dials and gauges are set correctly for a specific task. Therefore, attention to detail is an essential quality.

2. Hand-Eye-Foot Coordination

Operators should have steady hands and feet and strong eye coordination to maneuver heavy equipment safely. This is especially important when navigating tight spaces, rough terrain, steep slopes and other challenges. Strong coordination helps you control heavy equipment with more confidence and ease.

3. Teamwork and Communication

Heavy machine operators work closely with other team members, such as construction workers, engineers and fellow operators. Consistent communication with others is a must to complete projects successfully and on time. For instance, your team members may help guide you through a tight space as you operate the machine.

Teamwork is also vital for dealing with emergencies. Communicating with your team is key to resolving the situation and safely completing the task.

4. Critical Thinking and Decision-Making

To ensure smooth, safe operations, heavy equipment operators should be efficient decision-makers. They must be able to evaluate complex situations and find solutions.

For instance, you may need to troubleshoot a machine to get it up and running again. You may integrate problem-solving to assist a team member that encounters a challenge on the job site or is unsure how to operate a machine. Additionally, if you don’t have the right equipment to complete a task, you can think strategically to make use of the machinery you have.

5. Adaptability to Strenuous Work Environments

Heavy equipment operators should be physically fit to handle demanding worksites and weather conditions.


How to Become a Heavy Equipment Operator

Most heavy equipment operation jobs require a high school diploma or GED. Many require additional educational training, which you can complete through an apprenticeship, trade school or technical school. Traditional colleges can also prepare you for licensing and exams. Heavy machine operators often start out by working on a construction crew to gain experience.

In addition to having formal training, a heavy equipment operator must:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Be in good physical shape.
  • Have no vision problems.
  • Possess a driver’s license.
  • Have a basic understanding of mechanics.

In some cases, you may need a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Heavy equipment with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of over 26,000 pounds is subject to CDL requirements.

If you meet all the requirements listed above, consider leveraging your skills and qualifications by exploring a career as a field technician, focusing on heavy equipment. This role allows you to apply your knowledge directly on the ground, ensuring that machinery operates smoothly and efficiently.


Choose Arnold Machinery Company for Your Heavy Equipment Needs

At Arnold Machinery Company, we have a wide selection of newused and rental equipment to suit your needs. Whether you’re looking for a forklift, wheel loader, or excavator, we’re ready to help you find solutions to upgrade your fleet.

Our team strives to instill discipline, integrity and empathy in every associate. That includes parts specialists, field technicians, upper management and financial representatives. Our Silver Service® guarantee plays a crucial role in displaying these values to our customers.

Silver Service® represents our drive to always go above and beyond for our customers. It means doing every ethical thing we can to ensure you’re happy with your rental or purchase. You can feel confident you’re receiving the highest-quality service possible in choosing us for your heavy equipment needs.

Remember that no sale is final until you’re completely satisfied with your equipment. Browse our heavy equipment selection and contact us to let us know how we can assist you.

Choose arnold machinery company for your heavy equipment needs. We have a wide selection of new, used and rental equipment to suit your material handling applications. Contact us.

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